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Like impoverished people of other nationalities, many emigrated from Ireland to the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries as indentured servants; a smaller number were forcibly banished into indentured servitude during the period of the English Civil Wars; indentured servants often lived and worked under harsh conditions and were sometimes treated cruelly. history largely unfamiliar to Americans themselves is the role of indentured servitude in the survival and growth of the original 13 colonies.
Unlike institutionalized chattel slavery, indentured servitude was neither hereditary nor lifelong; unlike black slaves, white indentured servants had legal rights; unlike black slaves, indentured servants weren't considered property. The earliest settlers needed laborers, but only wealthy people could afford passage to the New World.
Among the many thousands of impoverished Europeans brought over in this fashion were men, women, and children from England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and elsewhere, but over the intervening centuries the notion has arisen that the Irish, in particular, were shipped to the New World as “white slaves.” In fact, according to an article first published on the Internet in 2008 and endlessly recirculated since, Irish slaves were not only common in early America, they were more common than African slaves, and often treated more harshly.
The article making these claims is usually credited to an individual named John Martin, who, in turn, found most of his “facts” in a 2003 article by James F.
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.
In terms of historical accuracy, the Irish slave story is a hodgepodge.
Self-published in 1993, Hoffman, a Holocaust denier, unsurprisingly blames the Atlantic slave trade on the Jews.
It was put to use decades later in the wake of the English Civil Wars, however, as a justification for forcibly shipping thousands of Irish prisoners, vagrants, and orphans to the Caribbean as indentured servants.Limerick-based research librarian and historian Liam Hogan takes aim at this notion in a series of papers debunking what he calls “the Irish slaves myth.” There were no Irish slaves in the Americas, Hogan says.People who claim there were are conflating indentured servitude with chattel slavery — two distinct forms of servitude with more differences between them than similarities: “White indentured servitude was so very different from black slavery as to be from another galaxy of human experience,” as Donald Harman Akenson put it in If the Irish Ran the World: Montserrat, 1630-1730. Chattel slavery was perpetual, a slave was only free once they they were no longer alive; it was hereditary, the children of slaves were the property of their owner; the status of chattel slave was designated by ‘race’, there was no escaping your bloodline; a chattel slave was treated like livestock, you could kill your slaves while applying “moderate correction” and the homicide law would not apply; the execution of ‘insolent’ slaves was encouraged in these slavocracies to deter insurrections and disobedience, and their owners were paid generous compensation for their ‘loss’; an indentured servant could appeal to a court of law if they were mistreated, a slave had no recourse for justice.They were shipped by the hundreds of thousands and included men, women, and even the youngest of children.Whenever they rebelled or even disobeyed an order, they were punished in the harshest ways.